10 Years: “The Family Stone”

  The holiday themed movie has been a staple for about as long as films have been made. Some have more success than others, some are beloved, and some are forgotten or seemingly forgotten as they didn’t make that much of an impression. But whatever a film’s degree of success, hopefully what’s in the film is enough to feed that holiday craving, and get you even more into the holiday spirit than you already are..

The 20th Century Fox film “The Family Stone”, is the perfect blend of family and holiday spirit, that hopefully moves you in some way.

This holiday dramedy stars Claire Danes (“Homeland”, “Master of None”), Diane Keaton (upcoming “Finding Dory”, “Love the Coopers”), Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”, “Southpaw), Dermot Mulroney (upcoming “Dirty Grandpa”, “Truth”), Craig T. Nelson (“Parenthood (2010 TV Series)”, “Grace and Frankie”), Sarah Jessica Parker (upcoming projects “Divorce”, “All Roads Lead to Rome”), Luke Wilson (upcoming projects “Concussion”, “Outlaws and Angels”), Ty Giordano “CSI”, “The Next Three Days”), Brian White (upcoming series “Colony”, “Chicago Fire”), Elizabeth Reaser (upcoming “Hello, My Name is Doris”, “One and Two”), and Paul Schneider (“The Daughter”, “Goodbye to All That”).

The film was written and directed by Thomas Bezucha (“Monte Carlo”, “The Big Eden”).

The film originally opened on Dec. 16, 2005. The film would go on to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award, three Satellite Awards, and one Teen Choice Award; winning one.

If you’re some kind of film and holiday purist like me, having to wait for the right and only moment in a given year to watch a film is difficult. They’re spread out pretty far and seem to add a slew of new and exciting films you want to watch each year. It really isn’t fair. And then, low and behold! at long last, that holiday has arrived! Seriously, I could barely hold out listening to all the Christmas music. I almost cheated and began early. Now I can add Christmas movies to my list of things I’m finally getting around too. I must say that starting with this one isn’t that bad, considering, until now, I didn’t really have time to watch a Christmas themed movie. I now hope I can get in a few more before the end of this year’s Christmas (Holiday) season!

I’ve loved this film since I saw it for the first time. It just worked. Yes, it’s not some heavy drama or overly original, but within the confines of its relatively simple story, it’s perfect! It achieves all that it set out to do.

At the film’s center there’s family. It’s a family like many others. And, in case you hadn’t figured it out, it takes place during Christmas. It’s actually told over three days, but that proves enough time to get to know the Stone’s and enjoy another Christmas movie.

For me, what makes this movie, excel the most, is how this family comes together and how they all interact with each other. They behave just like any family probably would, even if a bit more eccentric and dramatic than your own. Hell, than my own. Who knows, maybe you even see a bit of your own family in this film, to some degree. Or, just simply it reminds you of your family, or dare I suggest, one you kind of wish you had. It happens. When watching this film again I found myself adapting quite well to the Stone’s and loving just being there as a silent visitor. Getting to this place was quite easy as the characters are likable right away and they come off as that of an actual family. For some reason I’m drawn to films and television that have family dynamics like this at the center. And when they’re handled well, or at least well to me, then I love them even more.

As this was a film dealing with the gathering of the family, you also got a great sense of who they are as a family and individually. Surprisingly, as there’s no traditional character growth or insight, you had to rely on this past history and the chemistry that the actors brought. I was surprised too, maybe because it’s been ages since I saw this (which seems to be a theme with me), how much the house itself made me know who these people are. It’s the home where they all lived and grew up at one time, so, like any family home, you’d expect there to be a lot of history present in some way. As expected, there is. Taking it all in allowed me to continue that visitor feeling, and I was also able to come away loving each character, even if I didn’t like how mean they were sometimes. Without this, the film wouldn’t work at all. Not on any level. Sometimes watching a film like this or a series, you forget that these people aren’t actually related. Hallmark of a well done film.

The relationships between any of the characters came off well because of the actors, and thus this film’s comedy and drama could come into play. It’s all about family dynamics. And in any, there’s bound to be drama. It doesn’t have to be heavy or too heavy, but drama is often somewhere waiting in the wings. In this film, largely, it comes in the form of Parker’s Meredith, and the fact that no one else in the family really likes her. We see the different and disappointing ways in which they all react and, of course, things don’t go over so well. For anyone really. There’s also the drama from Keaton’s character being quite ill and slowly revealing this to the family. For a Christmas film, that’s also about family, it hits a different emotional note than just another dramatic turn of events. Nothing seems, or tries to, make you be more appreciative and loving of what you have like a dying family member during the holidays. It’s actually a bit twisted when you think about it. So, fuck you Bezucha? It is his fault after all.

However, things aren’t all dramatic and depressing. Remember it’s also a comedy? Like any dramedy there’s got to be moments that allow you to step away from the heavier aspects and just smile. Maybe you laugh out loud, or simply chuckle. I found this aspect of the film really successful as I didn’t think any of it came off too forced, or overly forced in some cases, and it all blended so well. You could go from one to the other and it never felt awkward. There were many moments that I loved, because they accomplished this and got you involved with the family, but none more so than towards the end. The sequence of dramatic reveal on Christmas morning of what Parker’s character now feels towards Mulroney’s and then the disaster with breakfast, plus it includes a ridiculous chase around the house between Mulroney and Wilson. Got me laughing! Granted, in this moment a bit of exciting and well known Tchaikovsky music was playing too! Even grown siblings act like small children and relatively hilarious accidents can happen in the kitchen.

And then, because this film is really trying to make you sad, it closes one year later. The family gathers for. Christmas once more, but with noticeable differences. There’s two new very young children there, and no Keaton. None of the characters reference her passing, or that it’s been a year (so maybe it’s longer, but I doubt it), but they go about finishing the tree and even greeting each other a bit differently. There’s considerably less cheer. When I got to this portion, I didn’t see it as some cheap way to make you sad, or sadder. No, it continued to show how strong the family unit is and that they’d always be there for each other. Always carrying on, even in memory of what once was. You can see see this when the lights on the tree are turned on and everyone looks on in silence, and you can really see it in McAdams’a character as she hangs an ornament and she reflects. Sending all this emotion and family love home, the film ends on an old photo of Keaton’s character that’s hanging near the tree, which seems to be the way they can easily remember her and have her be there on this day. The love for ones family is truly something.

And just because I can, a short mention on the film’s score. I’ve never heard the score outside of this film, so it’s hard to keep a good idea of what it’s like in my mind. Add the fact that it’s a holiday movie, and my chances of listening to it just decreased some more. Every time I see the name of the composer I’m surprised. It seems out of his realm of what he traditionally does. The film’s score was composed by Michael Giacchino (“Inside Out”, “Jurassic World”), and I must say, like everything else he’s composed, that I’ve heard, he doesn’t disappoint. The music just adds all the right touches to deepen every emotional aspect of this film and it never lingers in the film longer than necessary. It certainly helps in some instances, for the funny bits to be even funnier and the dramatic bits to be able to weave in and out seamlessly. I’m once again grateful for Giacchino.

None ever said all Christmas or holiday themed movies had to be super happy experiences. Some of the better and well known Christmas films aren’t. And, I guess, it also just depends on you, the viewer. You could be looking for a plain ridiculous Christmas comedy, like “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever”, which I’ll probably see again after seeing it last year, loving it and writing about it! Or you’ll want a mystical one, like any of the versions of “A Christmas Carol”. Maybe a romantic Christmas movie, as there’s never a shortage of those, ahem, “The Holiday”, “Love Actually”, any other made for TV movie released around this time. Whatever the type of film, hopefully it’s good (good enough) and gets you into the mood to celebrate and add another holiday film to your must watch list and film collection!

Amusing trailer:

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